They sure don’t make Chevrolet small-block V-8 engines like they used to, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good or bad thing, it just means they are two different animals.
That said, there is one thing the early and late Chevy small-block V-8 engines both have in common, and that’s the ability to withstand a tremendous amount of abuse and keep running strong.
Recently, I got to thinking about the extreme amount of abuse an early small-block Chevy engine can endure while my buddy Brian Shaw and I were wrenching on a 1966 Chevelle Malibu we pass back and forth as common property. We keep the Chevelle insured, registered, and running, so if one of us needs a backup car to cruise to a weekend car show or swap meet it’s ready to roll.
Unfortunately, time-sharing a classic car isn’t always in the best interest of maintaining the car in good repair. I won’t say whom, but one of us has a nasty habit of winding the Chevelle out in every gear to accelerate and also drop-shifting to slow down for red lights just to hear its dual glasspacks roar. I learned many years ago that continuing this abusive practice on a regular basis works great to reveal one of the 283’s weak points: They like to break pistons. The good news is the little buggers can continue to run for at least a year with bad piston slap before they’ll blow up. If you want to watch a crowd of people clear away from a parked ’66 Chevelle in a hurry, tach-up a piston-wounded 283 next to them.
The subject of revving past redline brings back memories of stuffing a solid-lifter Duntov cam into a two-barrel 283 with 8.5:1 two-barrel heads. The 283 would wind out Second gear to 95 mph, but it was only good for five more mph in high gear.
The original 220hp 283 in our Chevelle has developed a bad smoking problem along with emitting an excess of bangs, clangs, and loud slapping noises. Brain told me he found another 283, so we’re going to drop it in until our serious motor is ready to install.
The truth of it is it’s been a long time since I messed with a 283-301. I’m really looking forward to getting my cherry picker out of storage and yanking the tired 283 out and stuffing a fresher 283 back in. I’m thinking we should over-cam and over-carb it just to experience a very pleasant time warp. The transmission is still the original equipment three-speed overdrive with a 4.11 rearend, so it should be pretty fun to go out and look for a light-to-light street race. The beauty of racing unsuspecting citizens of stock sedans that’ll do 0-60 in less than 5 seconds is no one will know we’re racing.